IndyStar is making this story free to all as a public service. Please subscribe to support our work if you are able.
It took her several months, but Essence Hamilton got vaccinated against COVID-19 last week.
“More people I know around me that’s getting sick,” Hamilton said, after getting her Johnson & Johnson shot at the Julia M. Carson Transit Center on Friday. “I ain’t nothing but 23 and, like, as I look on Facebook — ‘I got COVID,’ ‘I got this, I got that.’ I’m good … y’all can share corona. Y’all can have these club scenes. I’m good. I need to protect myself.”
The 23-year-old Indianapolis resident could have received the vaccine in the spring, when eligibility opened up to her age group. She finally reached her turning point and joined tens of thousands of other Hoosiers in getting vaccinated this month.
“I need to protect myself ’cause I got asthma,” Hamilton said.
But that realization took time. Like some others, she first juggled concerns about side effects, which can include fever and muscle pain. Those are normal signs that the body is building protection against the virus, according to the CDC, and some people may not experience any side effects at all.
In addition to that concern, Hamilton says half of her family does not want to get vaccinated. And then some of her delay came from seemingly small barriers — her dislike of needles, her hectic day-to-day life as a fast food restaurant manager.
“Some days, I might even forget to eat when I wake up … we forget like the minor things in life sometimes,” she said.
That “minor” thing became a major life decision, both due to the delta-fueled surge taking over her social media feed and wanting to set an example for her unvaccinated family members, including her mother and four siblings.
“I actually did it to push them,” Hamilton said. “That’s why I said ‘Hey, let the youngest be the example. Let me lead the way.'”
Others in Indianapolis have shown that “family first” strategy works.
Jackie Edmonds, 32, had “been thinking about” getting vaccinated, but she finally got her first dose at the transit center Wednesday, just one day after her wife received her second dose, she says. Danielle Banyon, 56, was convinced after talking to her 73-year-old vaccinated sister in Florida. Tim Wilson, 58, was “on the fence” but a trusted cousin in New York shared her experience of getting vaccinated.
He spoke with “a lot of people” during his decision-making process, including friends and co-workers, but he says just one conversation with his cousin was enough to change his mind. They’re “pretty close” and “she’s a Virgo like me,” Wilson says.
“She strongly suggested I get one, and so that was a turning point for me,” Wilson said, noting that his cousin became infected with COVID in March 2020.
“She got honest about how she felt, the effects it had on her,” Wilson said. “We talked about it again. She talked about (how) she had the shot, and that pretty much made me a believer.”
Knowing and trusting someone makes a difference, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported showed in July.
Among a group of vaccinated U.S. adults who initially were vaccine-hesitant or vaccine-resistant, 17% say they were persuaded by a family member and 5% said they were persuaded by a friend. A doctor or health care provider convinced 10% of people, the poll showed.
“In addition to this, others cite protecting friends and family members as the main reason for getting vaccinated,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis states. “Being able to see their friends and family members as well as family pressure or encouragement” also persuaded some people.
Two-thirds of vaccinated adults also reported trying to persuade close friends and family members.
“The pandemic is serious,” Kia Robinson said, after getting vaccinated on Wednesday. “You have people dying everyday.”
Robinson says she was the last person in her friend group to get vaccinated, mainly due to a fear of needles and possible effects on her health problems. Her sister, Bre Martin, talked her into it with a simple, yet effective persuasion technique.
“I kept bugging ’em for long,” Martin said. “Go get the daggone thing — you want me to keep on bugging you?”
Relating to someone ‘face-to-face’
The demand for vaccinations in Indiana has significantly decreased over time, but state health officials are making their call to action with just as much urgency. The state’s surge is going to “get worse” if more Hoosiers don’t get vaccinated, they said at a recent press conference.
“It’s incredibly disappointing to have effective tools such as the COVID-19 vaccine,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said on Aug. 27, “and still have nearly half of our eligible population refuse to get it.”
About 53% of eligible Hoosiers are vaccinated.
For those who are hesitant, the decision-process is taking time, even with public health officials’ desperate pleas. Even now, months into the vaccine rollout, Marion County Public Health Department nurse Debra Porter says she addresses questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines.
And that’s OK, she says.
“That’s my responsibility,” Porter said. “When it comes down to it, you need a human being that you’re relating to face-to-face, and we’re here to serve you.”
She says noticed more people coming in due to fears surrounding the delta variant. Porter has also seen more parents getting vaccinated alongside their kids, she says, after eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine opened up to children ages 12-15.
The official FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine in late August appeared to make an impact too, with state health officials announcing a 10% increase in vaccine appointments scheduled four days after the FDA’s announcement.
That’s been a big factor for Tonya Bradford, who says she’s more likely to get vaccinated now. She sees the value of getting vaccinated, but she says she has been nervous about side effects — though she notes many of her family members are vaccinated and she does not know anyone personally who has suffered serious side effects.
But her skepticism is slowly dwindling. On a scale of 1 to 10, she says her likelihood of getting vaccinated is now at an 8.
“I come down here all the time,” Bradford said, sitting in front of Marion County’s bright green mobile vaccine clinic, which will be at the transit center once every week this month.
“I was thinking about it.”